“It’s not easy for employees, but it’s not easy for us either. From Chablis, where he runs a small trading business, Olivier Tricon sighs. “After two years of suffering the Covid and the difficulties in finding employees”, now inflation is involved. Impossible to escape when you live and work in the middle of the hillsides streaked with vines. “In our countryside, everyone travels by car, everyone is dependent on rising fuel prices. So I paid the Macron bonus, and I thought of giving 50 euros more per month to my twenty employees. But with the charges, they received 39 euros, and me it cost me 75. Everyone lost, ”he observes. For this boss who started “at the bottom of the ladder”, there was no question of not making a move for his team. So it’s decided: in July, “[he will] increase everyone by 3%, to try to offset the effect of inflation on purchasing power.” “And who knows, maybe it will limit my guys’ desire to go elsewhere…”

In Mérignac, in the suburbs of Bordeaux, Myriam King, at the head of an SME of around fifty people specializing in the maintenance of offices and common areas of buildings, has the feeling of having her back to the wall. “Given the price of housing in Bordeaux, people are going to live in the countryside,” she says. So now some tell me they can’t come to work anymore because gas is too expensive. We have to give in and give raises, otherwise they won’t come to work. »

Vincent Roche, lawyer at Fidere, an expert in social law, confirms this: “Our clients are asking us more and more questions about how to support the purchasing power of their employees, without taking risks and without put the company’s accounts at risk. In seven months, the minimum wage has been increased three times, an increase of 5.9% in one year. The branch negotiations conducted so far have resulted in wage increases of around 3%, compared to 1% in recent years. Not enough, however, to catch up with inflation, which hit 5.2% in May. “We have already increased salaries [at the beginning of 2022], and we should start again,” continues Ms. King, in Mérignac. “But I, the price increases with customers, I only do them once a year. »

“A really high level of uncertainty”

At the head of Lamazuna, an SME that manufactures zero waste cosmetics, Laëtitia Van de Walle is anxiously monitoring the curve of her sales. “We have already increased all non-executives by indexing them to inflation, and we have compensated for the increase in mutual insurance contributions. We would like to do more, but the turnover would still have to follow. So, we postpone the discussion to October, and too bad if it rattles a little. In the meantime, the boss of this company based in the Drôme countryside is discussing with her employees who are demanding a “carpooling bonus”. While in Niort, the boss of an industrial company is tearing his hair out: how to give a boost to workers who drive 60 kilometers to come to the factory without penalizing those who come by bike?

The equation is complex, because the margins of companies, comfortable after the health crisis, are suffering from the rise in the prices of raw materials or transport, and, for some, from the drop in sales. Consumption fell by 1.5% in the first quarter, unheard of since 1950. However “for the moment, companies are not passing on in due proportion the price shock in their costs”, underlines Denis Ferrand, Managing Director of Rexecode, which predicts that “treasuries will melt”.

Tristan de Witte, who runs two lighting manufacturing companies, tries to solve the equation. “With the rise in the price of metals and raw materials, our cost prices have increased by 10% to 15% this year. We can’t pass that on to our price list, because we’d be wiped out by our competitors, who sell imported products. So I don’t really have room to increase salaries, which are my biggest expense. While waiting to see more clearly on the evolution of inflation and to be able to make permanent increases, we will instead grant bonuses. »

This is one of the difficulties faced by business leaders: they are afraid of burdening the future by granting revaluations in line with the current rate of inflation, with no possibility of reversal in the event of an ebb. “We are faced with a really high level of uncertainty”, regrets Laurent Audebert, HRD of Implid, a large SME of a thousand people specializing in compatibility and legal advice. “Under these conditions, we do not want to make a general increase. The idea is rather to create a targeted and differentiated policy, playing on several fronts. »

“Rearrange Work”

During the first months of 2022, the urgency was to respond to employees who were struggling to meet the cost of fuel. The company will thus create a specific bonus for its employees (around 200 people) who work in medium-sized towns and do not have access to a public transport network to come to the office. Other schemes are being studied: a “soft mobility” bonus to help city dwellers finance a bicycle or scooter, holiday vouchers, perhaps a concierge service to pool purchases such as fruit and vegetable baskets…” And why not reorganize the work to allow employees to come to the office only four days a week, ”Mr. Audebert reflects.

François Asselin, President of the Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (CPME), echoed the difficulties of reconciling “the need for labor for companies and the desire to see the purchasing power of employees “. Among the measures suggested Tuesday, June 7 to the executive by the employers’ organization include the generalization of tax-exempt overtime and the relaxation of the criteria for payment of participation and profit-sharing.

While the government has announced the tripling of the ceiling for the exceptional purchasing power bonus, known as the “Macron bonus”, which could therefore reach 6,000 euros, the CPME is asking to pay it in three instalments. “It is easier to pay three times 300 euros than once 900 euros”, underlines Mr. Asselin. Finally, the organization proposes to revalue mileage allowances and to transform the deduction of professional expenses from income into a tax credit. The government must announce, after the legislative elections of June 12 and 19, a series of measures in favor of purchasing power.